Going For Gold

So a few months ago I wrote about how the new US Olympic basketball team was shaping up. I accurately predicted 10 out of 12 spots on the roster correctly, with the two spots being guys who got injured between my writing of that article and the Olympics (well technically 9 out of 12, but I’m counting Anthony Davis).

And so we all watched and waited as Coach K put together a team of dudes who are really, really good at basketball. They got to London, wore some really weird berets, Instagramed some pictures of dudes sleeping and actually played some hoops.

I’m just going to come out and say it; I honestly cannot watch a full game of USA basketball. It’s brutally frustrating. Only two teams in London have an NBA star on their roster, in France’s Tony Parker and Spain’s Pau Gasol (my apologies to Andrei Kirilenko), and while there are a bunch of serviceable to good dudes on other teams (Luis Scola, Luol Deng, Leandro Barbosa, Serge Ibaka and the more bearded Gasol…again my apologies to Andrei Kirilenko), it’s just not enough to engage a team of primarily #1 option guys.

This is the game plan for Team USA:

  • First Half-Keep selves entertained. Listen to Kevin Love tell awesome jokes on the bench. Prank Anthony Davis. Give Kobe enough time so he won’t complain. Become infatuated with the three point line. Watch Tyson Chandler stare intimidatingly at foreign big men while they stupidly keep coming into him. Hopefully be engaged enough to be up by at least 5.
  • Second Half- Remind selves that it’s time to try. Let Westbrook and Iguodala wreck havoc with their pressure defense from hell. Watch awesome ally-oop attempts. Become infatuated with the three point line…while also making over 50% of attempts. Realize that you are now up by 30. Silently watch Kobe talk to himself, saying that “he’s still the mamba”. If not up by 30 give the ball to Lebron and watch him work.

That’s it. That’s all they have to do. Which is fine, except when a team that knows it stands a chance either rationally (Spain) or irrationally (Lithuania) and tries to punch them in the gut (or in Argentina’s case, the crotch). It only happened once, and the team looked happy to just know that they’ll probably never play Lithuania again.

And so here they go, waltzing into a semifinal rematch against Argentina. As they head for the podium, I have a few thoughts about the team:

  • In my piece overviewing US Olympic Basketball, I was pretty harsh on Melo. And you know what? I totally support everything I said. He’s still every bit of the high volume shooting, defensively lazy, ball stopper that we all knew he was. It seems like one reason he was moved to the bench in favor of Durant (well that and KD is..you know…better). The one big thing working in his favor is that the international 3 point line changed it’s name to “the Anthony line”. I get that he scored a lot of points against Nigeria and broke a record set by Stephon Marbury…I still don’t really think he fits in in what we do best (pressure D, run, hustle and dunk).
  • I know he’s probably a little too busy trying to figure out how Jay Bilas actually started on a few of his Duke teams, but shouldn’t Coach K take Kevin Love aside and less than politely remind him that he’s on the team to rebound, set awesome picks and play on a winner for once? (AY OH).
  • This also may seem like a completely unoriginal thought/panicky Twitter opinion, but I really do question Kobe’s role on this team. This is in no way saying that he’s “done”, or even an elaborate excuse to make a Kobe going to Germany joke, I just don’t know if he fits on this team in the same general respect as Melo. He’s a guy that puts up points by getting into the game…and taking 19 shots a night to do so. He’s obviously not going to get 19 shots with this team, and so when he gets frustrated, forces a few bad shots, gambles on defense and inevitably gets pulled for either Iguodala, Westbrook or Deron Williams. There will be those halves where he explodes (like against Australia), but they are more and more infrequent. Unlike in 2008, it’s clear that Lebron is far and away the best player on the team (and the go-to-guy in crunch time) and Kobe probably falls pretty low on the big question of “who should get the most shots?”. I respect him, and really hopes he catches fire against Argentina and Spain…but it’s clear that the US has other (and often better) options.
  • Is there anything better than watching Westbrook and Iggy play pressure D? It’s like they come out of the half, and just say “Okay, I dare you to try and dribble past half court”. Do they gamble too much? Probably. But there’s been almost nothing I enjoy more than watching the lineup of Williams (or Harden), Westbrook, Iggy, Love and Davis used primarily in garbage time. They have everything you need if you like fast paced, exciting basketball/crazy alley-oops/crisp outlet passes/defensive pressure.
  • This Dream Team argument that was pretty much created by ESPN…and then subsequently debated and dissected by ESPN…is pretty empty. It’s literally impossible to compare the two teams. FIrst of all, OF COURSE the ’92 team won by larger margins! The international game was almost zero, especially after the collapse of the USSR. They played against very few, if any, NBA players and the Euro League was more of a cute little sideshow than a legitimate league.

Secondly, each team would probably throw some problems at the other. The Dream Team had the size to absolutely kill the 2012 team (with Barkley, Ewing, Robinson and Malone), but who would the ’92 point guard guard? I realize that Pippen and Jordan are all world defenders, but wouldn’t they have their hands full with, oh I don’t know, Lebron and Durant? Wouldn’t Westbrook and Chris Paul create huge problems against Magic and Stockton? And while the Dream Team would have a major size advantage, who are they guarding on D? Is Barkley trying to man up on Lebron? Will Ewing or Robinson be pulled away from the rim by Love sitting in the corner? It’s just too tough to say.

I think it is safe to say that the Dream Team would probably win a  seven game series, but in one game? I’m not as convinced.

Anyways, I’ll be watching the next two games with enthusiasm. Both Argentina and Spain can pose threats if they’re on…but something tells me that we’re going to see the last ever team of NBA superstars stand on the gold metal podium.

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